Alex Ramirez has a season’s worth of information at his disposal as he prepares to lead his Yokohama BayStars against the Yomiuri Giants in the first stage of the Central League Climax Series.
The one thing the manager won’t have when he hands in his lineup each day is the identity of the next day’s starting pitcher.
The Central League doesn’t announce probable starters during the postseason (unlike the Pacific League), despite doing so during the regular season. Which means opposing teams and fans are left guessing until the lineups are released. So Ramirez and the BayStars were in the dark when they arrived at Tokyo Dome for Game 1 on Saturday amid reports on Thursday and Friday that a health issue might keep Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano out of Game 1.
“Until I see the lineup, I still have to believe Sugano is the one who is going to pitch today,” Ramirez said during batting practice.
With the Giants’ situation uncertain, Ramirez declined to name his own starter. While he had a little fun with the media about the situation, Ramirez is not a fan of keeping the starters a secret.
“I don’t see the reason we have to hide,” Ramirez said. “We played 25 games (against Yomiuri during the regular season). We face these guys all the time and they face us all the time. We know the pitchers. We did it in the regular season, I don’t know the reason we have to be secretive.
“It’s becoming such a big secret that I’m even trying to keep it away from my pitching coach. Imagine that.”
Announcing probable starters is still a relatively new phenomenon in the Central League. The system was put in place for all Pacific League games in 1994. The CL didn’t begin announcing the next day’s starter for its games until 2012, which also resulted in starters being announced for interleague games. Though there had been cases where mangers would exchange the information with each other without making it public.
In the Japan Series, the opposing managers have to be in agreement in order for probable pitchers to be publicly announced.
Not announcing starters generally results in all sorts of cloak-and-dagger activities from the teams and the media.
Before Game 2 of the 2010 Japan Series, the Chiba Lotte Marines had left-hander Bill Murphy and right-handed submariner Shunsuke Watanabe deviate from their normal routines and perform identical exercises during batting practice and the two even jogged in together, lest the opposition or a media member pickup any clues. In 2009, the status of Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Yu Darvish, who had been injured, was in doubt until his name popped up on the battery announcement less than an hour before Game 2.
In both instances, media members strained to see what was going on with the pitchers in the outfield during practice. Some even used binoculars and reported even the most mundane details back to the group at large as everyone searched for a clue.
As Japan Times columnist Wayne Graczyk pointed out in 2012, CL teams would sometimes use the “teisatsu member” tactic, putting a player (usually a pitcher) who wasn’t going to play that day into the starting lineup. Then, once the manager had seen whether the opposing pitcher was a lefty or righty, the teisatsu member was substituted for another player.
No one went to those lengths on Saturday, even as Ramirez made light of the situation, when pressed for a name.
“Be patient,” he said with a smile. “Only a couple of hours and you will know everything.”
Everything was revealed less than an hour before the first pitch. Ramirez sent Shoichi Ino to the mound, with the Giants countering with Miles Mikolas.
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